Preview: Real Madrid, Atletico kickoff Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia

AP , Tuesday 9 Jan 2024

With Real Madrid enjoying good momentum and Atletico Madrid on a bit of a slump, the city rivals meet in the semifinal of the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday in the first of three matches between the clubs in less than a month.

Real Madrid
Real Madrid s Jude Bellingham fights for the ball with Mallorca s Dani Rodriguez during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Mallorca at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday, January 3, 2024. AP

After the Super Cup, Madrid and Atletico will clash again on Jan. 18 in the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey, and then on Feb. 4 at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in their second Spanish league match of the season.

Madrid has won its last five games in all competitions and is enjoying an unbeaten run of 19 consecutive matches. The team’s only loss this season came against Atletico in the Spanish league, 3-1 at the Metropolitano stadium, which is where the Copa’s single-elimination game will take place next week.

It’s also where Atletico won 20 in a row across all competitions to tie a club record in a streak that ended with a 3-3 draw against Getafe in the Spanish league in December.

Diego Simeone’s team went on a strong run after that home win against Madrid, advancing to the knockout rounds of the Champions League and getting near the top of the Spanish league. But it has hit some speedbumps recently, winning only two of its last five matches in all competitions.

One of its two recent losses came at Girona, the second-place team at the league’s halfway point. The 4-3 defeat dropped Atletico to fifth place, outside the Champions League places. It sits 10 points behind leader Madrid.

Atletico and Madrid also met in the 2020 final, with Madrid winning on penalties in what marked the first time the Super Cup was taken to Saudi Arabia in a lucrative multi-year deal for the clubs and the Spanish soccer federation.

The Super Cup’s new “final four” format pits together the top two teams in the Spanish league last season and the last two Copa del Rey finalists.

The other semifinal will be played on Thursday between Barcelona and Osasuna, last season’s runner-up to Madrid in the Copa del Rey.

Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann enters the game tied with Luis Aragonés as the club’s all-time top scorer with 173 goals.

Madrid remains without some of its main players because of long-term injuries, including goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and central defenders Éder Militão and David Alaba. Young Turkey international Arda Güler made his debut in a Copa del Rey match this past weekend and could have more minutes in Saudi Arabia. Vinícius Júnior, Rodrygo and Jude Bellingham are set to lead Madrid’s attack.

TITLEHOLDER BARCELONA

Barcelona beat Madrid in last year’s Super Cup final to win its first title since the arrival of coach Xavi Hernández and the departure of Lionel Messi.

Xavi’s team arrives at this year’s tournament under pressure after a series of lackluster performances that recently drew jeers from its home fans.

The Catalan club edged fourth-division club Barbastro 3-2 in the third round of the Copa del Rey on Sunday. It was coming off hard-fought wins against last-place Almeria and midtable Las Palmas in the Spanish league, and before that it hadn’t won in three straight games in all competitions.

Barcelona is third in the Spanish league, seven points behind Madrid and Girona.

Osasuna, the surprise Copa finalist last season, also arrives at the Super Cup having struggled recently. It has won only two of its last 10 matches in all competitions, and needed extra time to eliminate lower-division club Castellon in the third round of the Copa on Sunday.

Osasuna is 12th in the Spanish league. It hasn’t finished lower than 11th since returning to the first division in 2019.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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